Remember the golden days, when Robert De Niro was in his prime and cranking out mafia movie after mafia movie? Those were the days… We got tough, ruthless and somewhat funny Robert De Niro and we loved it. Lately, however, De Niro has been doing a lot more comedies and family movies and they haven’t been so great. The only thing keeping the mafia movies alive was Martin Scorsese, who just so happens to be the producer of The Family. Now, it seems as if De Niro is returning to his old roles and getting back into doing what he does best. With The Family, Robert De Niro is reintroducing us to the man he once was.
Snitching on your family is what will get you killed in the world of the mafia. Luckily for Giovanni Manzoni (Robert De Niro), he was the first to do so and was put into the Witness Protection Program with his wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and their children Belle and Warren (Dianna Agron & John D’Leo). We begin the film with Giovanni, now Fred, and his family heading for Normandy, as they are in need of being relocated again. Their unenthusiastic dialog lets you know that this isn’t their first rodeo and that they’ve grown accustom to always moving around. Upon arriving at their house, the family falls back into their “old” ways and prepares to start a new life in France.
While his kids are off at school and Maggie is off exploring the town, Fred rummaged through all their stuff and finds an old typewriter that sparks an idea in him. In his nice little greenhouse area, he begins to write out his memoirs in an honest and straight-forward fashion. As he depicts his brutal killings and mafia life, we get intense and graphic flashbacks to the mafia boss he once was. During his time writing, Maggie manages to blowup half a supermarket after the owners talk bad about her in French, Belle beats a guy who tried to remove her clothes with a tennis racket, and Warren got the know-how on the school and how to become the most important guy there. I guess the apples didn’t fall too far from the tree.
As the now Blake family is continuing to cause trouble in Normandy, FBI Agent Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) sets out to make sure that they don’t draw too much attention to themselves, as Don Lucchese (Stan Carp), the man who Fred put away, is hot on the trail of having them found and killed. Unfortunately for the Blake family, they’re presented with people who disrespect them and want to take advantage of them, so they naturally handle these people with old mafia ways. We get many scenes with some hardcore action and blood and we also get scenes filled with lots of comedy. Eventually, Don Lucchese gets wind that the Manzoni family is in Normandy and he sends his best men to go and kill them. Can the dysfunctional family keep it together long enough to survive their new home?
The Family is very much a dark comedy. The humor often derives from the characters making jokes about killing people or when they try to justify their horrendous actions. Unfortunately, the humor comes in at the most inopportune times and doesn’t blend well with the action. On top of that, the humor isn’t all that funny. I didn’t laugh a lot during this film because most of the humor felt very forced. There were some times, however, when De Niro would justify killing or injuring someone that elicited a few chuckles from me.
As for the script and how the movies plays out, they’re both all over the place. One minute, everything is fine and the mood is very mellow. Then, in the blink of an eye, the mood shifts entirely and we’re presented with banter or action. The film often suffers from these “mood swings”, as they occur more than once. It’s not that the mellow and action moods are bad, they just aren’t transitioned well. I did really enjoy most of the action in this film because it did feel like I was watching a Goodfellas-like movie at certain points. Speaking of which, there was a nice little scene in the film where De Niro’s character goes to a film debate and the movie they’re all going to watch is Goodfellas. It was a nice way to pay homage to Scorsese and De Niro that made me laugh and reminisce about that masterpiece of a movie.
Performance wise, I thought that everyone did an awesome job. De Niro, although old and bearded, still has the Italian-American attitude from long ago that fuels some of the film’s more interesting and amusing parts. Michelle Pfeiffer was great and her Brooklyn accent adds to her characters likability. Dianna Agron, at first, seemed somewhat uncomfortable with what she was doing and saying, but she got into it a lot more as the film progressed. Newcomer John D’Leo was funny and quite the mastermind and I’d love to see some more from him, because he held his own against some of the most respected actors in the business. I wouldn’t forget Tommy Lee Jones, but he’s always great in his roles and this one had a balance of serious and comedic, which worked in his favor.
Trailers are what made this film a less desirable watch and that’s unfortunate, because The Family isn’t a bad movie. It’s not the best movie, but it’s an enjoyable almost-two-hours that will make you laugh and will have you loving the action sequences. Seeing De Niro get back into his element gives me a lot of hope for his upcoming projects, one of which he’s doing with Al Pacino and Joe Pesci that will be directed by Martin Scorsese. Is this film better than most of the comedies that De Niro has done of late? Yes it is! The Family is a fun watch that is interesting enough to hold your attention until it’s over. Afterwards, go home and celebrate De Niro and Scorsese’s team ups, please. You wont be sorry that you did.
The Family Trailer